City Planner - Talking NYCC & Chicago with Lance Fensterman

A funny thing happened the way to New York Comic Con 2009. While in the last stages of planning one of the biggest comic book conventions of the year, Reed Exhibitions made major 2010 convention news while the Javits Center teamsters were starting to set up the booths for this year's event.

In case you missed it, earlier this week Reed officially confirmed that NYCC will be moving to new permanent October dates beginning in 2010, and that earlier next year (April to be exact) they'll launch a brand new downtown Chicago show - the Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (or "C2E2") - which could potentially result in a significant reevaluation of the comic book convention calendar by exhibitors and attendees for years to come.

We expected to catch NYCC Show Director Lance Fensterman for a brief last pre-con chat this week, but as fate would have it, we had a whole bunch of new things to talk about...

Newsarama: Okay Lance, so I expected this to just be our final conversation about NYCC 2009, but you guys went and blew up those plans pretty good.

Lance Fensterman: I firmly believe in creative destruction, life is too boring without it!

NRAMA: So I gotta ask you, “no comment” on over the weekend and a press release on Monday, what’s up with that?

LF: We were working hard to pull together all of the pieces needed to make an announcement on our 2010 plans, but were not ready to make it public, then Woodward and Bernstein from Newsarama swooped in on Saturday and threw that plan into shambles. Thanks for that, like I’m not working enough lately, I have to pull an all day session on Saturday?

NRAMA: Hey, we called you, we were working too…

In all seriousness, your press release on the new Chicago Show and NYCC in 2010 did a pretty good job of explaining both of those developments, but lets see if we can dig under the surface a little.

Chicken and egg question, how related (if at all) was the move of NYCC to October and the launch of C2E2 in April? Do you consider them related or would either have happened without the other?

LF: It was related in the sense that we needed them appropriately spaced apart from each other and other major cons on the calendar as best we could. But without Chicago being launched, we still would have moved NYCC to the fall, which I’m sure I’ll give you more details on as we continue the inquisition.

NRAMA: On that note, taken on its own terms, why is October a better date for NYCC than February or April?

LF: It is better for two reasons – we have consistent dates for the first time in the history of the con and we have room to grow. Simply put there were no available dates in the Javits Center with the space we needed for 2010. I don’t mean no dates that we liked, I mean not dates. Javits, in a reflection upon the partnership they have displayed and the new found value they place in NYCC as city wide cultural event, worked very hard to find us dates, even moving a show for 3 years in a row to make room for us. We now will have the entire upper level of Javits on the same dates, for years to come, we felt those two needs outweighed getting the perfect dates, and, as I said, we really had no choice in the matter.

NRAMA: This need for growth just anticipation, or have you already outgrown the space you have this year?

Are you turning down exhibitors at this stage, or anticipate expanding the scope of the show to bring in new exhibitors from different verticals?

LF: We have not turned anyone away to date, however we are out of space. We could do away with some features like extra seating, the autographing area, or our business lounge to make more room, but that's not a good choice. We also sell out Artist Alley every year months before the show, I'd love to have more room for the guys. The new space will actually allow us to grow those areas in addition to grow the exhibitors.

NRAMA: You made sure to emphasize it in your press release, so why is the Chicago downtown location so important in Reed’s eyes for C2E2? You making the calculated assumption comic book fans just don’t head back to their hotel rooms and read comics and buy pay-per-view?

LF: Honestly, this was a point impressed upon us by our customers that asked us to create this event. They felt that downtown was key and that a con of the caliber of NYCC was key. I think you’ll see downtown Chicago become a key component of C2E2’s personality, much like NYC has for NYCC.

NRAMA: Anything you want people to know about the facility you didn’t mention in your announcement?

LF: We have a building at McCormick Place called Lakeview and it is awesome. We will have the entire building to ourselves and while it’s a little big for us in 2010 it gives us plenty of room to grow in the future. It has an amazing 6,000 seat state of the art theatre, it has tons of room for the queuing of lines beneath the halls (with escalators leading right up into the hall), it has amazing views of the lake, and it has tons and tons of parking. I really think it will be an exceptional venue for our fans and customers alike.

NRAMA: We spoken about this previously and you talked about how the city has embraced the show (NYCC) and we assume you're anticipating Chicago will do that same, but how does this translate inside the halls of the show. Do you feel like the "personality" translates to the con experience within the confines of the venue?

LF: I expect the city of Chicago as a civic entity to be extremely supportive of the event. They are already very excited and looking to work with us very closely. We got a nice article in the Chicago Tribune print edition the day of our announcement, the city is stoked. How that manifests itself inside the hall I'm not sure just yet deep dish pizza instead of NY style? Those questions will get answered the further into our planning we go.

NRAMA: You spoke about calendar “balance” in your announcement, tell us what kind of feedback you got from the industry and how that weighed into your decision to launch Chicago and move NYCC?

LF: While I can’t speak for our customers, the feedback we got was that having three major cons balanced throughout the year was extremely attractive to them. Neither Chicago or NYCC “step on the toes” of our friends in Southern California, they are spaced enough that they give everyone time to rest and reload in between. And they give our customers a major platform in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th quarters of the year.

NRAMA: Now you made it clear (no doubt intentionally) that you have the support of the two major players in the comic book industry for C2E2, and I have no doubt you’ll answer this diplomatically, but do you expect the industry, not to mention attendees can and will support two Chicago shows in consecutive quarters for the long term, particularly in this economic climate, and given some of the imperfections of the current convention calendar, like the proximity of San Diego Comic-Con and Wizard’s Chicago show?

LF: We expect the fans and the customers to do what is best for them respectively. We will create a major event, professionally organized in downtown Chicago in the spirit of NYCC, from there, the fans and the customers will decide what is best for them, all I can do is answer the call from our customers and do the best we can to create a great event for them, the fans in Chicago and the Midwest. This was not a project we went looking for, this was very much brought to us.

NRAMA: Speaking of the economic climate, did Reed’s pop culture division win PowerBall or something? How when just about everyone is running for cover, you guys are jumping into the fray guns a-blazin’?

LF: The long-term health of Reed is predicated on diverse portfolio, not just the Powerball, we also invest in the Pick 3 and some scratch off’s, that’s just good fiscal sense!

In all seriousness, this is one of the advantages of working within a larger company; we have the resources and the personnel to pursue good ideas when they present themselves. While the company is large, we operate within it like small businesses. This idea presented itself and I created a business plan just as if I was opening a coffee shop or a comic store. I presented it to North American leadership asking for aggressive investment, and they saw potential and gave me the go ahead. And it is aggressive; we will not be sparing any expense in launching this event.

NRAMA: Okay, so we still have this little matter of NYCC 2009 to worry about. How about a last minute attendance check? Any projections just days before doors open?

LF: No projections, but registration is up, way up in fact. It’s always hard to read those tea leave (did everyone just register early instead of on site?) but the show is looking very healthy. We have basically sold out of booth space as well. I’m optimistic that we will have the Javits rocking, hard, with a full house this weekend.

NRAMA:- And what is your Farmer’s Almanac, or the Doppler 9000 Acu-Weather Forecast telling you about the weather this weekend?

LF: I obsessively check and re-check and all looks good. The forecast looks bad for Wednesday but after that it gets increasingly better! 40 and sunny, not too bad for February!

NRAMA: Any last programming additions that haven’t made your website or blog yet?

LF: We just added Terry Moore and Joshua Jackson. It also looks like we are going to have an exclusive screening of the first hour of the new Pixar film, UP for a very limited audience. All good stuff and I expect more changes in the coming days – there always is!

NRAMA: Oh, a completely self-serving question, any websites going to have video studios this year?

LF: I think Woodward and Bernstein that ruined my weekend are going to have one. Maybe they’ll do some investigative journalism on the hotdogs at Javits……

NRAMA: Okay, finally, and again in all seriousness, any last messages for people thinking about coming to the show, or checking out the doings online?

LF: Buy your tickets in advance, it will save you some bucks!

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